Men of a certain age wonder what to do when they are free – that is, when they are retired, not divorced. Some of us seem to know what we will do with our freedom, but others just need to discover it as that time rolls in.
My friend and fellow pediatrician Larry Hammer and I were comparing notes last Wednesday at lunch. I sold my practice on December 31, 2012. Larry is down to two days a week practice now, which counts as nearly retired. It seems we are both discoverers, and it seems we are both discovering things we used to do and now have time to do. For me, it's a melange of things, including writing – you, dear reader, are experiencing that right now, see how the words zing off the page! – and studying French, which I studied for two years of high school and one semester of college, and which was then superseded by Spanish and Swedish, both of which sometimes invade my French space as I seek to express myself with my new French teacher over near Piedmont Avenue. And I also work out several days a week. Time well spent. But I make sure I do French every day.
What Larry is discovering seems to be his horn. When I met Larry a few years ago, he told me he visits the New Orleans Jazz Festival every year, and visits Yoshi's locally as well. He told me last Wednesday that, as his work time was winding down, he thought of getting out his old clarinet. I played clarinet briefly in my youth, so I could easily see the attraction. Then he decided to migrate to the sax. Again, I saw the attraction, as anyone would who likes 50's and 60's rock and roll. It's a great discovery for him. I could see the light in his eyes.
We both are going back to things we didn't have time to perfect, with no great expectations other than enjoying ourselves, polishing and advancing skills for their own sake. Along with going to ballgames, which we both do.
His turning to the saxophone had me remembering another pediatrician in the East Bay, Bobby Mines, like me originally from Philadelphia, and like me a long time pediatrician here in Oakland. Bobby and his former partner, Bill Jenkins, cared for thousands and thousands of needy patients in their high volume offices, working long and hard hours, and doing a great job with high quality. Bobby retired a couple of years before I did, and I asked him if he had any plans.
"Well," he said, "I think I'm going to go back to playing the saxophone."
“That sounds like a good idea,” I said, “You used to play it?”
“Yeah,” said Bobby. “But I had to give it up for med school.”
“How's that?” I said.
He said, “Well, I was playing it pretty well, and I thought I'd like to continue with it. I was with a group, and we were doing a little touring, and I wanted to go along with that.”
“So what happened?” I asked.
“Well, my father told me that of course I could do what I wanted. If I went to Meharry for med school, where I was accepted, he would foot the bill. But if I went off touring, well, then I was on my own. I really loved my saxophone and my group, but you know, music is a funny business, so in the end I took his advice and his money and I went to Meharry.”
“I guess we all have to give something up,” I said. “But then how did the group do?”
“They did pretty well,” said Bobby.
“Really,” I said. “Who were you playing with, back in Philly? Who was the group?”
Bobby said, “I was playing with John Coltrane.”
“Oh,” I said.
No, what I actually said was, "JOHN COLTRANE!!?"
I guess his horn is better than my French.